Where you lay your head at night on a tour can make or break your holiday.
When you come on one of my tours, you’ll be staying in the Italian countryside in accommodation owned by Italians. Usually there’s a family who you’ll get to know. Sometimes there’s a restaurant where you eat home-cooked meals. There are views of mountains, woods and fields. There’s something special about them. The people aren’t service-trained robots, like in multi-star hotels. They’re human; they make mistakes; but they do their best to make you happy during your stay. They really care.
Since one of my objectives is to invest in the rural economy, I try to find suitable agriturismi (farm accommodation). Part of your fee goes directly into the production of healthy food, uncontaminated by chemical fertilisers and insecticides.
It’s often difficult to find an agriturismo with enough rooms with en suite baths. The movement started in the ‘80s when the government was looking for ways to help farmers. They hit upon the idea of subsidies for converting old farm buildings into tourist accommodation. Originally they were just one step up from campgrounds. Now sometimes it’s the tail wagging the dog, posh rooms and minimal agriculture.
Here are three of my favourites which really are based on agriculture.
Venturo means next or coming. Owner Ismaele Turri always has twenty projects on the go and an equal number coming up. He’s a jack of all trades and a master of all. About 15 years ago he bought and renovated a farmhouse down the road from where he was born which is where we stay on the Advanced Salumi Course Tuscany. He’s also a farmer, butcher, baker and runs two restaurants, both of which he renovated himself. Somehow he managed to have five children along the way who are now taking over the family businesses. Inspiring!
Alle Camelie (At the Camellias) in Pieve di Compito (Lucca) is Claudio Orsi’s family villa. His father, being a builder, converted the old oil mill and adjacent hay barn into accommodation. The main produce of the organic farm is extra virgin olive oil and wine. There’s a restaurant where Elena, Claudio’s friend since schooldays, prepares Tuscan dishes the way they’re meant to be: simple, elegant and full of flavour. We stay here for half the Tuscan Heritage tour and part of Autumn in Tuscany (sorry—not running this year).
You might guess from the name that Terra di Michelangelo (Land of Michelangelo) is near Caprese Michelangelo, Michelangelo’s birthplace in the upper Tiber Valley. Owner Gabriele Bigiarini raises free-range Cinta Senese pigs (black with a white belt round the middle). The rooms on the top floor of the main farmhouse are splendid with antique furniture, a large communal sitting room and terrace, but then so are the little apartments created from former farm buildings and workers’ cottages. The pigs reside across the valley, too far away for us to smell, but the laboratory where Gabriele cures the meat is on-site, and we taste the result in his restaurant along with the beer he has brewed from his farro (primitive wheat) on our Tastes & Textiles: Woad & Wool and Tuscan Heritage tours.
Ex-monasteries are another good source of interesting accommodation. I was surprised when I first visited the Certosa di Calci (Pisa) to discover that the monks lived in spacious cells with a sitting-dining room, bedroom-prayer room, workshop, garden and well. The Certosa doesn’t offer accommodation, but Luigi Aloisi does at Ai Frati (At the Friars). It was a Franciscan monastery until Napoleon’s troops destroyed the church and chased the friars away. Each guest gets a sitting room-kitchen (even though it’s not needed on my tours), bedroom and bathroom. We stay with Luigi on the Tastes & Textiles: Hanging by a String tour.
The other ex-monastery we stay in is the Oasi San Benedetto, a former Benedictine monastery at Lamoli di Borgo Pace in the Marche. The rooms are a bit spartan, but they’re large and light and each one has a private bathroom. Everything works, or if it doesn’t, Anna is up there like a flash to put it right. The best part is the restaurant run by chef Patrizia Carlo. I can’t begin to describe how wonderful her meals are, both to the eye and the palate. You’ll have to come and sample them. We stay there on the Tastes & Textiles: Woad & Wool tour. There’s a museum of natural dyes and Max is there to give tours and workshops.
Most bizarre of all are castles, usually mediaeval and occasionally with a resident ghost. We stay at the Castello di Porciano (no ghost) on the Woad & Wool tour. The parents of Martha Specht, the current owner, devoted themselves to restoring it. Martha and her delightful assistant Federica provide warm hospitality in the tower and the houses of the surrounding village. You can almost imagine yourself as a mediaeval princess looking out over your realm.
Villas converted to B&Bs are almost too common for me to consider, but there’s one I love, which is Maria Grazia’s Villa Lombardi at Camaiore. It’s perfectly situated for the Advanced Salumi Course Tuscany and the end of the Tastes & Textiles: Hanging by a Thread tour. You’re surrounded by antiques from her husband’s hobby business.
|Erica Jarman invites you on inspiring culinary tours of life behind the scenes that you won't find in any guidebook — get to know the food artisans and craftspeople of Tuscany and Sardinia. Come join me and my Italian friends and dip into a lifestyle where lunch is more important than business. Find out more at Sapori e Saperi Adventures and follow Erica’s own adventures on her blog.|
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